June 22, 2017
By Janice Biehn
Earlier this year PWRDF reported on the story of Rebecca Deng, a former lost girl of South Sudan now living in Winnipeg. With the help of fellow refugees at the Emmanuel Mission and St. Matthew’s Anglican in her adopted home, and the support of PWRDF’s Connections program, Deng returned to South Sudan last July to set up the Winnipeg Women’s Resource Centre in Bor. It wasn’t easy getting sewing machines and other supplies into the centre of the world’s newest country, buckling under civil war. Deng had to take drastic measures, making her way on foot across the city to get to the airport.
Despite these initial challenges, the centre opened on September 5 and has been making a difference to women in Bor. Indeed, as parts of South Sudan are paralyzed by famine, the women’s centre shines as the hope for the future of the country.
On paper, the centre has several strikes against it: a lack of electricity and communications equipment; not enough space to meet the needs of the 200 students; accessibility during the rainy season. Despite these infrastructure deficits, women and children are learning and thriving. In the life skills class, taught by Dr. Mary Gordon Ayom, women are learning about HIV and AIDS prevention, personal hygiene, water purification, livestock management and treating common diseases in domestic animals.
Elderly circles happen weekly at the centre as well as at Lake Yak and Langbar. Leader Mary Nyanchol Anyiwei reports that the women have learned about female empowerment and the role of women in resolving conflict peacefully. The sessions have also dealt with the issue of alcohol consumption and how to treat alcohol addiction within their families.
“These sessions are important as they assist me in organizing my family life and personal life as a women,” says Anok Kok Diing. “It also helped me in making reconciliation with my family and others.” Participant Mary Nyantet Koul had praise for Anyiwei: “I thank women of Winnipeg for facilitating such a person for us. Her words of wisdom encourage us not to give up on ourselves as women.”
Sewing and literacy classes
A hallmark to the program is the sewing class. Two dozen women learned every aspect of the craft, from assembling and disassembling the machines, drafting patterns, cutting fabric and making trousers, skirts, dresses and shirts.
The literacy classes are also well attended. Children in the childcare class are reading, writing, recognizing words, singing and dancing. They are able to recite poems and tell stories, reports their teacher, Mary Yar Machar. However, the classroom needs a proper black board, more books and adequate lighting. With attendance projected to triple from September 2016 to February 2017, the classroom is also short on tables and chairs. Literacy teacher Den Kon Leek also recommends another teacher and an office to help manage the classroom more efficiently.
Deng is please to report an event on May 6 at the South Sudanese Centre in Winnipeg, organized by the Emmanuel Mission at St. Matthew’s Winnipeg, raised $7,000 for the centre in Bor. “From the proceeds we hope to cover a great part of our budget for the operation of the programs. We will be able to cover the materials require to teach, the incentive for our dedicated staff in Bor, the meal program for the women and children in our program.”
The event also helped raise some much needed attention to the the ongoing war and famine in South Sudan, says Deng. CBC radio, CTV Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Free Press picked up the story and told of the dire situation in South Sudan.
“Because of the famine, we have approved to open occasional meal programs in three more Anglican parishes in Bor to help those facing starvation until we get more funding for regular meals,” says Deng. “This is vital in the coming months normally known as ‘hunger gap’ in South Sudan. These are months beginning around this time to next harvest in late September.”
Deng adds that consolidating the current classes in tailoring, literacy and life skills are the priority “for they are the things that will help in the long term.”
While the Centre is now operating out of the Mother’s Union offices, the goal is for the Centre to have a stand alone building with at least three classrooms, an office and a hall. “This can help with long-term sustainability of the program,” says Deng. “The cost of the centre could run between $100,000 and $200,000. An anonymous donor pledged $100,000, however, due to conflict and fighting on major roads, we temporarily put the building plan on hold. It is our prayers that there will more security and stability during the dry season starting from October to April next year that we can revisit the building project.”